Not as important as it seems

These words you are reading on your screen right now are not as important as they seem.

The focusing illusion is fundamental to our thinking process. Daniel Kahneman describes it when he says “nothing in life is as important as you think it is while you are thinking about it”.

The focusing illusion is important from an evolutionary perspective. The moment something catches our attention, we are wired to consider it as being important – like the smell of smoke, movement in the grass or bright red fruits in the bush.

But in today’s world, this tendency distorts our perception of what is essential. All those extra words in that long-winded speech seem important to its speaker. In a long email that could’ve been conveyed in three sentences, every word seems important to our colleague who is composing it. This blog post could have certainly been shorter. Every creator struggles with leaving in the essential and editing out whatever isn’t.

Similarly, our environment is filled with noise, vying for our attention. The ringing desk phone has been replaced by smartphones chiming in each of our pockets. And once we look at them, we accord them more importance than they are worth.

An essentialist has trained herself to cut through the noise and pick out the essential. A seasoned journalist distinguishes herself from her peers by listening to the same conference, but writing a more compelling report about its essence.  A journal is a record where we revisit the most important moments of the day. It isn’t a coincidence that journal and journalist are derived from the same root.

Hindsight comes with the benefit of being a better judge of the essential than the present moment. Therefore, a regular journaling practice can be an effective antidote to the limitations of the focusing illusion.

Inspiration: Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less – Greg McKeown

2 thoughts on “Not as important as it seems

  1. Hi Pom,

    Kanheman also talks about a dichotomy in our minds which he calls “the remembering self” and “the experiencing self”. The remembering self is what journals at the end of the day and the experiencing self is what experiences various events during the course of the day. This division in attention or consciousness is what results in effects such as the peak end rule, where “people judge an experience largely based on how they felt at its peak (i.e., its most intense point) and at its end, rather than based on the total sum or average of every moment of the experience” (source : Wikipedia).

    This dichotomy is largely unconscious, which means that when you sit down to journal, what you are reporting is most likely what was recorded by the remembering self. Therefore, to take the example mentioned in Kanheman’s book, if you were to journal a prolonged and painful experience such as a break up of a relationship or a colonoscopy, you would most likely report how you felt at the peak and at the end. So if everything was alright at the end, your mind would categorize the whole experience as positive. One cannot help but fall for this.

    There are certain kinds of introspection which can reveal to us the actual experience apart from what we have access to through the remembering self. Meditation is one such tool. Apparently even some psychedelics have the same effect. Psychotherapy also aims to coax latent memories which are repressed for some reason. Any analysis is done post hoc is liable to be distorted.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s a great point about the experiencing and the remembering self. But memory deteriorates over a continuum.

      You are right when you say “if you were to journal a prolonged and painful experience” you are likely to remember only the peak moments, distorting your analysis. But if you journaled everyday through a break-up that lasted two months, you’d have several data points of little peaks and troughs that you experienced daily to smoothen out to a workable average.

      But I suspect we’re talking about different things. Through this post, I merely state that it is easier to know if an hour-long meeting was useful a couple of hours after it has finished rather than when it is happening.


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